VILNIUS - Several hundred people rallied in Vilnius on Wednesday to protest against the city administration's decisions to remove commemorations to two officials who were allegedly involved in the Holocaust during World War Two.
Participants of the rally in central Vilnius called on the city's authorities to restore the name of a street to Kazys Skirpa Alley and reinstate a plaque honoring Jonas Noreika for his resistance to the Soviet occupation.
People held Lithuanian tricolor flags and banners featuring portraits of the historical figures and messages accusing Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) of antagonizing society and thus playing into the hands of Russia.
Angele Jakavonyte, the daughter of a participant of the post-war anti-Soviet resistance, called on politicians "not to belittle patriots" and to properly commemorate people who fought for the independence of Lithuania.
"Let us not forget the heroes of our nation," the protester said.
The memorial plaque to Noreika, a pre-war Lithuanian military officer and an anti-Soviet resistance fighter known as Generolas Vetra (General Storm), was taken down from a wall of the Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in late July.
Mayor Simasius said he ordered to remove the plaque in view of the fact that Noreika, as head of Siauliai County during the Nazi occupation period, put his signature on the Nazi administration's decisions to set up a Jewish ghetto and expropriate their property.
The move came after Vilnius' City Council decided in late July to rename a small street named after Kazys Skirpa, a 20th century Lithuanian diplomat and military officer, due to his declared anti-Semitic views.
Police told BNS more than 300 people took part in Wednesday’s rally.
"Noreika and Skirpa are our heroes who fought for Lithuania," said Renata, a 35-year-old protester who declined to give her last name.
Giedrius Laucius, an 80-year-old pensioner, said he was angered by the city's decision to remove the commemorations without proper public discussion.
"Such things are inadmissible," he said.
Several politicians, including two candidates for last May's presidential election, Arvydas Juozaitis and Mindaugas Puidokas, took part in the rally.
Amid heightened tensions, the LJC announced on Tuesday it was closing, for an indefinite period of time, the Vilnius Synagogue and its headquarters due to threats.